TORONTO — Ricky Ray and Chad Owens’ heeded their coach’s call Saturday.
Ray threw for 407 yards and three TDs while Owens amassed 248 all-purpose yards and a touchdown as the Toronto Argonauts stunned the Saskatchewan Roughriders 48-15 before a sparse Rogers Centre gathering of 17,758.
The win was redemption for Toronto, coming off a rough 45-21 season-opening loss in Winnipeg. What’s more, Saskatchewan began its Grey Cup defence registering 10 sacks in a 31-10 home win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. On Friday, Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said he was looking forward to seeing which of his players would step up against the defending CFL champions.
“Those were two of the guys I expected to do that,” Milanovich said of Ray and Owens. “I guess I just expect it at this point.
“Last week wasn’t good . . . I think our pride was hurt, I think we were embarrassed by the way we showed up. Professional athletes are very competitive, very prideful and to take a whooping like that when you didn’t see it coming, that sticks with you. It may’ve been a good thing for us in the longterm to kind of open your eyes and show us we need to step up every week.”
Toronto quickly took control, surging to a 17-1 halftime lead that swelled to 24-1 just five minutes into the second half. Being firmly ahead allowed the Argos to continue utilizing their entire playbook and maintaining a balanced attack to keep Saskatchewan’s defence guessing.
Toronto ran for 161 yards with sophomore Curtis Steele rushing for 59 yards and two TDs on eight carries while rookie Antony Coombs added 52 yards on six carries. Ray also got into the act, running four times for 32 yards.
Falling behind forced Saskatchewan’s run-first offence to go to the air 33 times – compared to just 15 rushing plays. That allowed Toronto’s defence to come after Riders quarterback Darian Durant, sacking him five times (four in the second half) and registering two Antwuan Molden interceptions. The newcomer took one 108 yards for a TD late in the game.
“I thought it was a key that we get out to a lead . . . it allowed us to stay balanced and continue to mix it up a little bit with our ground game,” Milanovich said. “It gave our defence a little confidence playing with the lead and let them come after the quarterback.”
Toronto’s defence, which opened the season with just four returning starters, had four more new faces against Saskatchewan. Cornerback Vincent Agnew, safety Jermaine Gabriel, linebacker Molden and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas all started as cornerback Matt Ware, linebacker Jamie Robinson and safety Matt Black went on the injured list while defensive lineman Greg Romeus was placed on the practice roster.
But Toronto didn’t emerge unscathed as linebacker Shea Emry (head) and slotback Andre Durie (shoulder) were injured. Milanovich wasn’t sure how severe either was.
Ray completed 29-of-37 passes, many being short underneath tosses that allowed his receivers to quickly get upfield and gain yards after the catch. Owens was especially effective, registering 11 catches for 159 yards and a TD while also returning six punts for 89 yards.
“He’s so shifty out there,” Ray said of Owens. “I just got to get the ball into his hands and he’s going to cut all the way across the field and make guys miss and turn short gainers into big plays for us.
“It’s nice to have a guy like him who makes my job easier. I’m not having to throw it 30 yards downfield, I’m just throwing the little short ones and he’s taking it 40 yards.”
Owens said it was important for Toronto to rebound from its opening-season loss.
“You never want to start the season 0-1, let alone 0-2,” he said. “We knew it was a must-win game for us and playing Saskatchewan we knew it was going to be a battle.
“Even after the first half I wasn’t satisfied with the lead just knowing how quickly they could score.”
Saskatchewan made it interesting in the third after Ray’s 14-yard TD strike to Jason Barnes put Toronto ahead 24-1. Durant hit Taj Smith with a 59-yard touchdown strike at 10:22 before finding Antony Allen on a nine-yard toss at 13:16 to pull the Riders to within 25-15.
But that’s as close as Saskatchewan got as Swayze Waters’ 40-yard field goal to open the fourth put Toronto ahead 28-15.
Durant finished 17-of-29 passing for 295 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. Allen ran for 158 yards on 27 carries last weekend against the Ticats but was held to 66 yards on nine carries versus Toronto.
Riders head coach Corey Chamblin admitted he was shocked by the one-sided outcome.
“We didn’t think the game would turn out this way,” he said. “But you have to be perfect to win against Ricky Ray.
“I felt we didn’t have a good practice and we were not good enough to win off a short week.”
Durant sensed the Argos’ defence was intent on redemption following its performance last weekend in Winnipeg.
“They had a great defensive gameplan,” he said. “They came out after the loss last week and wanted to perform for their fans at the home opener.
“We played against a good football team and a great quarterback.”
Mike Bradwell had Toronto’s other TD. Waters added five converts, two field goals and a single.
Saskatchewan’s Chris Milo had two converts and a single.